Modern Nature – How to Live
I recently wrote a review of a song called “Owls” by Combo Qazam. When I posted it, I reached out to Stefan, the guy who runs Tiny Room, their label. Turns out Stefan is also in Combo Qazam and he sent me a great email and told me about Modern Nature, his favorite band of the last couple of years. Stefan, thanks for the tip. Anyone who turns me onto good music is a friend in my book.
I know nothing about Modern Nature so I’m listening with naked ears and a beginner’s mind. As the opening track, “Bloom,” unfolds, I think of “Broken Chords Can Sing a Little,” the opening track from A Silver Mt. Zion’s first record. Both songs explore the relationship between dissonance and resolution, but “Bloom” follows a simple and emotional chord progression that reminds me of Explosions in the Sky.
The mood evolves as vocals, beats, and electronic noises enter on “Footsteps.” Radiohead crosses my mind. Genderless vocals sit beneath the surface, mixed too far back to understand the words but forward enough to bathe in the mood. I try to decide if it’s a man or a woman and I’m reminded of the beauty of ambiguity, the beauty of continuums rather than binaries, the beauty of a Venn diagram where tenors and altos meet. A saxophone kicks in and it first reminds me of Daniel Ash before the more obvious Coltrane reference comes to mind. Ash is one of the very few rock sax players who I like, so the comparison is a high compliment.
Halfway through the record, I start reading about How to Live. Allmusic opens their review by calling the album “a woven basket of bucolic British folk, woolly free jazz, and pulsing organic trance.” Pitchfork starts with a description that I kind of love (“cosmic minimalism”) but then runs with Fairport Convention, and The Times calls it “the missing link between Fairport Convention and Kraftwerk.” I went back and listened to some Fairport Convention records, and while I hear what these critics are talking about, British Folk captures only a small fraction of what Modern Nature is doing.
I struggle with genres. Lately, I classify music at very high levels: rock, folk, electronic dance music, jazz. I frequently use “experimental” because I like artists who play with the ambiguity between genres the same way Jack Cooper’s voice plays with the ambiguity between genders. At the end of the day, though, there are only two genres I care about: good and bad.
How to Live is unquestionably good. It is rock and folk and electronic dance music and jazz but it’s none of those things. It is experimental but still accessible. It is interesting and exciting, challenging and thoughtful, sad and joyous. It is the kind of album that can sneak in and become your favorite for a few years if you’re not careful. Simply put, How to Live is good. If you like good music, check it out.
Released: August 23, 2019